The Color of Grace
by Linda Kage
||Whiskey Creek Press
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When my mother remarried after thirteen years of being a widow, I had to move to a new town and enroll in a new school. Suddenly thrust into an entirely different kind of life, I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to meet new people, didn’t want to leave my old friends, didn’t want to become a third wheel to my mom and her husband….and I really didn’t want to see Ryder Yates again. Ugh, I still don’t know why I turned down that too-good-to-be-true boy who flirted with me when we were attending separate schools.
But honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was worse.
Who knew becoming lost in a new life could help a girl find her true colors?
Through the lens of my camera, I zoomed in on the flood of purple and white blanketing Southeast High School’s fan club as they swarmed my home school’s bleachers on the visitors’ side.
Their mascot, a violet dragon, pranced and danced past the Southeast cheerleaders, flipping up the skirt of one girl as he went. She chased him a few steps, swatting him away from her, giggling the whole time. I groaned, cringing as I watched the Barney wannabe wiggle his backside, inviting the cheerleader to spank him for his misdeed. Yeah, yeah. I know. Barney’s a dinosaur and their mascot was a dragon. Big diff.
But, come on. “Who in their right mind has a dragon for a mascot?” I muttered aloud. Honestly.
An arm came around my shoulder and Bridget, my best friend in the entire world, tilted her head sympathetically to rest her temple against mine. “You will…soon.”
Too right she was. The massive pretzel with cheese I’d just gorged down roiled in my stomach; I thought I might toss it back up.I let out another moan and dropped my face. Those would be my people over there, and I didn’t know one of them. They’d be my classmates, and to me, they looked like total morons.
Why, oh why, had my mother married a man from Osage, home of the Southeast Dragons?
Worse yet, one of the last home basketball games my school hosted before I had to be become a purple and white dragon just had to be against them.
They were having a good ball season. We were not.
Let me rephrase.
Hillsburg hadn’t had a good basketball team for going on about, oh, five years now, while Southeast was blooming. Frankly, they were undefeated. Both boys and girls.
Their team was going to flatten ours and stomp our remains into dust. And I had doomed myself with the task of immortalizing the event with pictures. Since I was on the yearbook staff, I’d signed up to shoot all the home games with Bridget.
Next to me, she patted my back dolefully. “So, are you packed and ready to move yet?”
I drew in a deep, fortifying breath and sat up to once again catch sight of the dragon’s progress. He was flirting with some other girl now, sitting five rows up in the Southeast fan section.
Bridge waited quietly for my answer.
She and I were part of the nerd herd, as her older brother Joel liked to call us. A total of four, we nerders had banded together years ago and bridged a friendship I knew would be unbreakable no matter how far away I had to move. But leaving them was still going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done.
I stole a quick glance her way.
“Some,” I said.
Okay, I’d packed hardly anything at all. But I just couldn’t do it. How could I go? How could I leave the people I’d grown up with since kindergarten and known my entire life? And how could I admit to her how hard this was for me? Seeing my dejection would only multiply her gloom and make everything ten times more miserable for both of us.
So, I lied. “Mostly.”
She nodded and straightened her shoulders as if she was relieved I wasn’t suffering.
The buzzer went off, making me jump and worry the entire building was ousting my fib with its strident screech. Glancing toward the record-keeper’s desk where the scoreboard controls sat, I spotted Hillsburg’s janitor, Mr. Velter, cringing. He bowed his shoulders like a kid who knew he’d just been caught stealing cookies and glanced around to realize he’d gained the entire gymnasium’s attention. Giving a half wave and a rueful grin, he set the scoreboard time to let both teams know they had ten minutes to warm up.
Relieved the buzzer had interrupted my conversation with Bridge, I hefted the camera bag onto my shoulder. “I’m going to scout out a good spot on the end line to take pictures. Maybe I’ll catch a few dunk shots while our guys warm up.”
She snorted. “As if anyone on our team could make a slam dunk.”
I agreed whole-heartedly but started off anyway.
Fast beat hip-hop filled the speakers, and the Hillsburg players made their big entrance, causing the home side of the gymnasium to roar with applause and the Southeast stands to boo. I shuffled my way to the end line where my team was warming up and crouched down directly behind the basket, lifting my camera and taking aim.
On the other side of the arena, the Southeast fans stood and cheered. I figured their team had finally made their way to the floor. Little did I know they’d entered the gym on the Hillsburg end until I heard, “Hey, get out of the way!”
I looked up just in time to see a dozen purple and white uniforms charging straight toward me.
To say the least, I didn’t get out of the way in time.
Losing my grip on my camera, I tumbled backward against the padded wall mat, landing on my rump. The camera fell and skidded across the hardwood floor with a sickening thud.
“Oh no!” I gasped and began crawling on hands and knees toward it as the visiting team streamed by, dodging around me. One size fourteen shoe tried to pulverize my fingers; I snatched my hand back just in time to save all five digits.
Only a single player paused. “Are you okay?”
“The camera,” was all I could croak. The yearbook teacher would kill me if I broke a piece of school property.
The Southeast player crouched next to me and picked it up since he blocked my way of reaching for it myself. I caught sight of his purple and white jersey out of the corner of my eye, but the rest was pretty much a blur because I focused all my attention on the Nikon. I snatched it from his outstretched hand and made cooing noises as I turned the lens this way and that, checking for cracks, scratches, and bruises.
Lingering at my side, the boy asked, “Is it broken?”
I was finally able to let out a relieved breath. “No. Thank God.” Thank God, thank God, thank God.
His hand, the same that had rescued my camera from the floor, flooded my field of vision as two fingers reached for the camera’s neck strap and gave it a wiggle to get my attention. “You know, this thingy here,” he said. “That’s to put around your neck so you don’t drop your camera when you get jostled.”
He was teasing me. I could hear it in the timbre of his voice. The jerk was trying to make light of my near camera-death experience.
I frowned and muttered back. “Really? And here I thought that was its carrying handle.”
Instead of turning as huffy as I had, he merely laughed. And, sweet mercy, that laugh went straight through me, tingling up the back of my spine and running along my nervous system to come out the ends of my fingers and toes. Its tone, its mere melodic quality, had me lifting my head so I could see its owner’s face.
Sucking in a breath since my lungs suddenly decided not to work any longer, I jerked back and landed on my butt. Yeah, again.
His beauty was unreal. I had to blink repeatedly to make sure my fall hadn’t jostled my eyesight. But every time my lashes flickered open, I saw the boy clearly, in faultless, spectacular detail.
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